1.14.2011

Upon watching Das Rheingold



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Full many a wonder is told us in stories of old: 

Richard Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung --- one of those things you can't properly avoid and can't seem to find 16 hours of free time to devote to the first viewing. First viewing mind you. Unless you are completely swept up into the goat-drawn chariot of enthralled Wagner-mania it is practically a requirement that you give it a second go, and that after reading commentaries and analyses, sight-reading from the score, learning German, learning Old Norse, and slogging through Jakob Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie.

I am taking that first step. Last night I watched the Met's 1990 DVD of Das Rheingold. With my dog. And a bowl of cereal. Kind of a fun way to do it.

Prior to this viewing I had prepared by readig William O. Chord's (O for Odin?) The Teutonic mythology of Richard Wagner's "The Ring of the Nibelung". Several years ago Gray Brothers loaned me a comic book of the epic written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Jill Woodring and Gil Kane. And I taught a day of Wagner to 55 college undergraduates for Music for Humanities in which we listened to the Flight of the Valkyries and drew parallels with John Williams's movie scores. Beyond that I have not even had much contact with general, Italian opera.
Here's James Morris as Wotan. He's exuding a real James Dean meets Lord of the Ring meets Crimson Pirate vibe. All he needs is a motorcycle to ride to his council of the gods by the World Ash Tree and a hip flask to drink wine at the feast halls of Valhalla. He did an excellent job highlighting the tragic conflict of his powerful choices. The moral of the story should be:
  1. Get rid of Loge. The little demi-god of fire is fun and all, sort of a mix between Puck, the Human Torch, and Dagonet, but he seems to be more trouble than the fun he provides.
  2. Get a credit card and establish good credit. I think if Wotan had a Nordic Express in his pocket he could at least approach the Bank of Germania loan division and get some sort of mortgage going for paying off the giants for Valhalla. Hugin and Munin should have figured that one out in all their travels.
  3. Lastly, what sort of guardians are the Rhine Maidens supposed to be? Flirts? Yes. Giggle-heads? Assuredly. Bouncers? No. That's sort of why Fafner turns into a dragon to protect his gold. 
I am not a Wagnerite. I find the music and the drama and (especially) mythology very interesting and compelling. I am amazed at the ability to sustain the force of his story for so long and the assimilation of ancient thought which took years to complete. Yet I would not be willing to engage in a pamphlet war over the matter. Let's see after I go through the other movies. Jessica and Erik both have graciously declined to join me in a cinematic adventure. Gonna have to get more cereal.

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